Plant and Soil

, Volume 398, Issue 1–2, pp 59–77 | Cite as

Measurements of water uptake of maize roots: the key function of lateral roots

  • Mutez A. AhmedEmail author
  • Mohsen Zarebanadkouki
  • Anders Kaestner
  • Andrea Carminati
Regular Article



Maize (Zea mays L.) is one of the most important crops worldwide. Despite several studies on maize roots, there is limited information on the function of different root types in extracting water from soils. Aim of this study was to investigate the location of water uptake in maize roots.


We used neutron radiography to image the spatial distribution of maize roots in soil and trace the transport of deuterated water (D2O) in soil and roots. Maize plants were grown in aluminum containers filled with a sandy soil that was kept homogeneously wet throughout the experiment. When the plants were 16 days old, we injected D2O into selected soil regions. The transport of D2O was simulated using a diffusion–convection numerical model. By fitting the observed D2O transport we quantified the diffusion coefficient and the water uptake of the different root segments.


The root architecture of a 16 day-old maize consisted of a primary root, 4–5 seminal roots and many lateral roots. Laterals emerged from the proximal 15 cm of the primary and seminal roots. During both day and night measurements, D2O entered more quickly into lateral roots than into primary and seminal roots. The quick transport of D2O into laterals was caused by the small radius of lateral roots. The diffusion coefficient of lateral roots (4.68 × 10−7 cm2 s−1) was similar to that of the distal unbranched segments of seminal roots (4.72 × 10−7 cm2 s−1) and higher than that of the proximal branched segments (1.42 × 10−7 cm2 s−1). Water uptake of lateral roots (1.64 × 10−5 cm s−1) was much higher than the uptake of seminal roots, which was 5.34 × 10−10 cm s−1 in the proximal branched segments and only 1.18 × 10−12 cm s−1 in the distal unbranched segments.


We conclude that the function of lateral roots is to absorb water from the soil, while the function of the primary and seminal roots is to axially transport water to the shoot.


Lateral roots Seminal roots Neutron radiography Root water uptake Deuterated water (D2O) Maize Radial and axial conductivity 



The doctoral position of Mutez Ahmed was funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). We are grateful to the staff at the ICON imaging station of the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), Villigen, Switzerland for their technical support during the measurements with neutron radiography. KWS is appreciated for providing Maize seeds. Finally, we would like to thank Claude Doussan for his comments on a former presentation of this study and two anonymous reviewers for the constructive comments on the former version of the manuscript.

Supplementary material

11104_2015_2639_MOESM1_ESM.docx (5.2 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 5367 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mutez A. Ahmed
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Mohsen Zarebanadkouki
    • 1
  • Anders Kaestner
    • 2
  • Andrea Carminati
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Soil HydrologyGeorg-August University of GöttingenGöttingenGermany
  2. 2.Paul Scherrer InstituteVilligenSwitzerland
  3. 3.Department of Agricultural Engineering, Faculty of AgricultureUniversity of KhartoumKhartoum NorthSudan

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